TIME FOR A SYSTEM SHIFT? How effective time management takes more than individual behavioural change

5 January 2023

It’s time for change. For years veterinary professionals have said ‘yes’. Yes, to more clients, more patients and working overtime. It is taking its toll. Experienced practitioners and recent graduates are leaving the profession, and many more are suffering mental and physical health issues associated with sustained high stress.

At BSAVA Congress 2023, international experts will be exploring how time management at organisational, systems, teams and an individual levels can lead to drastic improvements in performance, job satisfaction and wellbeing.

“We are at a tipping point and can’t keep doing what we’ve always done,” says Tessa Plagis, communication advisor at St. Anna Advies, an organisation which provides practical communication advice and training for the veterinary and agricultural sectors. “If we want sustainable veterinary businesses going forward we need to change the structure of how we work.”

The issues, according to Tessa are both organisational and individual. “Many veterinary professionals struggle to give boundaries. We are people pleasers and tend to say ‘yes’, even if that means compromising other important aspects of lives, such as family. This set against a background of too few vets, which means that there’s nobody to help us out when there’s too much to-do.”

Tessa’s wide range of techniques for improving time management range from systemic changes like clustering appointments and introducing firebreaks, to individual responsibilities such as saying no.

Tessa’s top tips for effective time management

  • Measure what’s happening now. Double appointments, vets running over, late closing time; pinpoint the problem and get insight into its scale by analysing the current situation.
  • Measure how long it takes to do routine procedures from start to finish. Is everyone sticking to their roles and fulling utilising their expertise?
  • Keep to time in consults by prioritising and not always doing those extras. When a client comes in for a vaccine but also wants you clip claws, empty anal glands and look at a lump, assess which is urgent and what needs to be dealt with in a second appointment. This does need to be a team-wide approach, otherwise you tend to hear ‘but the other vet will do it.’
  • Cluster appointments. For example, have a morning of cat spays rather than bouncing from a dental to a castration to a spay.  It’s more efficient and has the advantage of giving you, and the nursing team, comparable outcomes to monitor, making anomalies easier to spot.
  • Learn to say ‘no’. Focus on what is possible, rather than what’s not. Instead of ‘we’re fully booked today, the next appointment is tomorrow,’ try ‘the next available appointment is tomorrow.’ Don’t rearrange your schedule to fit theirs.  It’s doesn’t work in the long term.
  • Introduce firebreaks. A good technique that stems from human medicine accounts for emergencies. Another tip, which requires a team-wide approach.
  • Make clients aware of the length of appointments. ‘We’ve booked you in for a 15min appointment at 4pm on Thursday,’ for example. It sets expectations at the start.

Alan Robinson, director of VetDynamics – a veterinary business development consultancy – takes a slightly different approach.

“Like most professionals, veterinary professionals are brilliant at doing their job but no so good at running businesses. Generally, they aren’t trained for managerial roles and are battling with friction-full systems, huge demand and a shortage of staff..”

Alan considers four key areas where practice managers and owners can make a significant impact.

Alan’s top tips for effective time management

  • Simplify the jobs and their outcomes. In consults, outsource non-clinical elements, to other internal teams. Vets are compassionate and will take on the responsibility for the management of emotions when they don’t have too and without due regard for their own needs. Compliance is another area which doesn’t necessarily need to fall to the vet.  Multi-functional teams can support and assist, offering an ‘ecosystem of care’.  The financial side of consults can be moved outside of the clinical sphere through pet clubs, insurance and full subscription models.
  • Develop efficient systems. Draw from other businesses, lean, six sigma and business design reengineering processes are efficient and proven. Do things you have to do well, delegate, outsource or automate other elements. Simply stop doing those things you don’t need to do.
  • Consider reducing the number of active clients per vet. We’ve found the optimum is between 500-700.  It means more time with fewer people. While it is hard to say no to the ever-increasing demand, there are ways to develop a strong client base. Healthy pet clubs ensures you’ve clients who are engaged in preventative care and are committed to the well-being of their animals, for example.

“There’s a lot of work happening in the realm of mental health at the moment,” notes Alan. “But we’re treating stress as an individual problem not an organisational or system one.”

Rebecca Robinson, coach at VetDynamics and senior clinician in veterinary anaesthesia at the Animal Health Trust describes her journey, the need for long-term goals and investing in your team.

“I used to have hundreds of to-do lists which I never got to the bottom of,” she confesses. “I’d carry over items from one list to the next. Other than helping me prioritise, it was a waste of time and didn’t get me closer to achieving my long-term goals.”

Rebecca’s top tips for effective time management

  • Set long-term goals for you and your business. One important aspect of effective time management is knowing that you’re achieving the right things.
  • Invest in your team. By building a team and using it in a constructive way, I’ve found it’s helped my own time management. I’ve gone from trying to organise me and my time to realising that by helping others, I can improve my own work life.
  • Prioritise your own tasks. By prioritising what I need to do, I can help my team feel more valued and motivated to prioritise what they need to do. It means we end up with a more productive team.
  • Try not to get embroiled into the other’s to-dos. While they might be both important and urgent, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to action them. Helping them to do it themselves has made a massive difference to them and me.
  • Set SMART goals and boundaries for achieving them. Make sure everybody knows the outcome that you are working towards. It prevents people from going off in a completely different direction to the one you’re expecting.
  • Don’t rely on your head to remember everything. It’s too busy, so write it down. Likewise, draft your case notes at the time of the consultation.
  • If it takes less than 2 minutes, just do it. Don’t try and remember the to-do all day, it requires a lot of energy and means you’ll be actioning it when you’re already feeling exhausted.
  • Take time for a little self-care. Rather than trying to keep going until you grind to a halt, make a little time for yourself. You’ll be more productive overall.

“When we’re all managing our time effectively, I have a happier, more productive team, in every sense of the word. There’s less sick leave, more willingness to take on tasks that move the practice forwards and more resilience for when it doesn’t go to plan.”

To find out more about time management, join us at BSAVA Congress 2023 at Manchester Central on 23rd-25th March 2023 where Tessa, Alan and Rebecca will be delving into the topic in more detail.  To find out more or get your ticket, click here: https://www.bsavaevents.com/bsavacongress2023